Submission to Home Affairs Committee Immigration Detention Inquiry

Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) was founded in 1991. Women Against Rape (WAR) was founded in 1976. Together the two organisations have worked closely with women in detention, particularly in Yarl’s Wood IRC, over many years documenting the traumatic impact of rape and other violence on women’s asylum and immigration cases and helping women win justice and safety. BWRAP and WAR have been the primary support and vehicle by which women detainees have been able to publicise their complaints about the treatment and conditions inside detention.

In 2005 BWRAP and WAR contributed to “A Bleak House in Our Times: An Investigation into Women’s Rights Violations in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre”, which found that over 70% of women inside were victims of rape or other sexual violence prior to being detained. In 2015 the two organisations published “Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, documenting incidents of abuse of women detainees by guards over a decade.

CONDITIONS IN DETENTION AND TREATMENT BY GUARDS

•      Conditions in detention are harsh. Survivors or rape and other violence who are traumatised, suffer particularly from the isolation and abuse of detention. We have seen some groups say that detention serves no purpose. We disagree. Based on what women describe to us we have no doubt that a primary aim of detention is to inflict harm onto people with the purpose of instilling fear in them and others; that is a form of domestic terrorism.

•      Women’s complaints include the torment and injustice of indefinite detention, being separated from children and other family and friends, violence from guards, being denied much-needed health care,  inadequate, inedible food and having their asylum claims sabotaged by guards. In some cases, a self-help guide by Legal Action for Women, which we send to every woman that contacts us, has been confiscated and was only returned after protests.

•      Violence during enforced deportations continues. We work closely with the All African Women’s Group, and one of their members was recently deported. She was strapped across her chest into the seat and had two guards, one on each side holding her down. She suffers from extremely high blood pressure and she was trying to call out and signal that she was in terrible distress. Eventually, an air steward intervened. She arrived in her country of origin weak and traumatised and later described to us by phone that nearly died.  The 24 March audio recording of a man in distress during a deportation confirms that violence from guards is common.

HUNGER STRIKE

•      In February 2018, women and men detainees in Yarl’s Wood went on hunger strike raising demands which we list below. We urge the Home Affairs Committee to act on these demands.

•      Bail applications to be speeded up:  Legally they should only take 3-5 days to come to court. Delays of up to a month are common.

•      Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and more.

•      End indefinite detention so that no-one stays inside for longer than 28 days.

•      End Charter flights. These are inhumane because women get no prior notifications and no time to make arrangements with family members.

•      No more re-detention. No-one should be re-detained if you are complying with the law.

•      Stop separating families. Some women inside are married or have British partners and children outside.

•      No detention of people who came to the UK as children. They should not be punished for their parents’ immigration histories.

•      The beds need to be changed. Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed and they are the most uncomfortable beds.

•      LGBT+ people’s sexuality to be believed. It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult.

•      Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre. Only some rooms have them, and people have got very ill in places where they can’t call for help.

•      Access to proper healthcare. Women with serious conditions have been left for days without treatment.

•      Nutritious food.

•      Release people with outstanding asylum and immigration applications.

The hunger striker’s statement describes conditions inside as “torture”:

At any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal have their privacy taken away because officers come in without warning. You don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later.”

•      None of the serious issues which hunger strikers are raising over and over again have been addressed or investigated with any sense of urgency.

RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE.

•      BWRAP and WAR’s 2015 Dossier Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre documented serious abuse by guards that Serco, the company that continues to run Yarl’s Wood, had either ignored or actively covered up. The situation we documented has not changed. Yarl’s Wood remains open and Serco remains in charge. Shamefully in 2014 the government renewed its contract to run Yarl’s Wood.

•      Our Dossier contained complaints from current and former detainees, collected from hundreds received between 2005 and 2015 including:

•      A rape survivor from Uganda reported a male guard entering her room when she was semi-naked, causing her to be re-traumatised.

•      Several women reported that strip searching and suicide watch made them feel humiliated: “Male guards are present when women are strip searched.” “If you are put on suicide watch the guards watch you when you go to the toilet, they come into your room when you are sleeping. I woke up and a guard was standing over me shining a light in my face. I was very scared.”

•      A pregnant woman reported a guard repeatedly propositioning her for sex and witnessed the same happening to other women: “He flirted with me. I was scared, fragile and pregnant. The guards double date the women. Some women believe that a guard has their best interests at heart but they are easily taken in because they have no other option to get help. Guards give the impression that they have the power to get women released.”

•      Some women reported that guards preyed on their vulnerability and desperation to abuse them. “If you have to open your legs you will. You think that is the only way that you are able to speak to your family. You have to give in.”

FALSE CLAIMS THAT CONDITIONS IN DETENTION HAVE IMPROVED

•      In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee (20 March 2018) Serco claimed that conditions inside Yarl’s Wood had improved. The Serco representatives cited evidence given before them from the organisation Women for Refugee Women that women inside Yarl’s Wood were no longer complaining about the conditions but only about the process:

We have got better over the last two to three years and the debate among the NGOs is now less about Serco running a place that is cruel and inhumane to saying that conditions are “good” in the Centre and that the main complaints about are the process that people are in.”

•      We strongly disagree with these claims. The hunger strike and list of demands from women inside cited above confirm that women are still suffering serious injustices and abuse.

“ADULTS AT RISK” POLICY

•      The new “Adults at Risk” policy issued in September 2016 was meant to address the public outcry about victims or rape and other torture suffering further trauma as a result of detention in the UK.  But the policy was almost unanimously criticised as a step backwards.

•      Women for Refugee Women (WFRW) were the only organisation to publicly welcome the policy on the grounds that it appeared to concede to some of their proposals on detention. Other prestigious organisations providing legal and other assistance to people in detention called for “an urgent review before the policy was implemented” on the grounds that the new policy put vulnerable people at more risk of detention. It defined “torture” in a more limited way (excluding victims of domestic violence and violence by “non state agents”).

•      This change was clearly sexist in that women are more likely to have suffered domestic violence and/or have the torture and other violence they suffered assessed as “non political”. It also gave the Home Office the power to prioritise ‘any immigration control factors’ over a person’s vulnerability. We immediately saw a change in that more rape and domestic violence victims were detained or found it harder to get released.

•      One women who contacted Women Against Rape from Yarl’s Wood was refused bail even though she reported to medical staff that she was suffering nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD because Yarl’s Wood reminded her of being held in detention in Uganda (where she suffered multiple gang rape by soldiers).  Women Against Rape’s independent expert evidence about her experiences was dismissed and instead assertions made by medical staff that detention wasn’t having a negative impact were relied on to keep her in detention.

•      As the Committee will know the “Adults at Risk” policy was in October 2017 ruled unlawful.  We are calling for it to be scrapped altogether.

DEPORTATION IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO DETENTION

•      We note that there is a push in some quarters for the alternative to detention to be an increase in so-called voluntary returns. The Home Office is spending over £30 million, including on funding voluntary organisations and charities, to manipulate and force asylum seekers and refugees to ‘volunteer’ to be deported. There is widespread and growing opposition to this.  Whatever recommendations the Committee makes it cannot be acceptable for detention to be reduced by fast tracking people out of the UK regardless of the risks they may face on return.

DEMANDS

·         We support the demands of the hunger strikers listed above and we urge the Home Affairs Committee to press for their implementation.

·         We take our lead from women asylum seekers who are demanding an end to detention and deportation.

We work closely with the All African Women’s Group, a 100 strong group of women asylum seekers. In a recent statement they commented:

“We all have the right to be here in the UK. African and other Third World people have contributed over centuries to the wealth in the UK. We have suffered enough through imperial conquest, slave trades, proxy wars, Western backed dictatorships, rape and other torture…and through long treacherous journeys getting to the UK. We demand the right to asylum, safety and protection.”

Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape
26 April 2018

 

Fantastic news: single donation of £1000 received for Brigitte & her daughters!!!

Brigitte’s pro-bono legal team at Kingsley Napley have just announced that they will cover the full cost of her daughters air fares! 

Brigitte is overwhelmed by the kindness and the generosity, not only of her solicitors, but of everyone who has been moved to make immediate donations.  A further £172 has been received so far.  These and any further donations will be used to cover additional/inevitable costs incurred by moving from the DRC and settling here in London.

Thank you all for your care and support for Brigitte and her children.  We will be back in touch once they are with us!

Black Women’s Rape Action Project. 

Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa, one of All African Women’s Group’s (AAWG) longest standing members, is finally to be reunited with her two daughters after a traumatic thirteen year forced separation.  Her daughters have just been granted their “indefinite leave to remain” visas.  However, the authorities have only given them a “30 day window” to reach Britain otherwise their visas will expire!

Brigitte urgently needs to raise £1000 just to cover the girls fares from Kinshasa to London.  Since time is running out for Brigitte and her daughters, we hope you will please give as quickly and generously as you can.

Thank you.

BACKGROUND

Brigitte fled the Democratic Republic of Congo having been detained and tortured in prison by the authorities for her own and her family’s involvement in the opposition movement.  Once in the UK she spent seven years fighting for the right to stay whilst doing what she could to find her five children who were lost to her.

In 2013, with BWRAP’s help, Brigitte won indefinite leave to remain but was denied the right to automatic family reunion.  Later that year, miraculously, she found two of her daughters alive in DRC, but living in terrible conditions.  She wanted to bring them to Britain, but couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer. BWRAP was able to secure pro bono representation from Katie Newbury at Kingsley Napley and Rebecca Chapman at 2 Garden Court. Applications for family reunion were made in May 2016, but rejected three months later. None of the evidence so painstakingly gathered was addressed.  Statements from her daughters detailing their vulnerability to destitution, the history of the abuse they had suffered after Brigitte fled, and the traumatic impact that ongoing separation had on them, were dismissed and ignored.

Brigitte appealed.  BWRAP and Women Against Rape gave witness testimony at her hearing and Brigitte was supported by 19 women from AAWG all crammed into a tiny court. Unlike some judges who dislike public scrutiny, Judge Lingam thanked everyone for attending.

Finally in March 2018, Judge Lingham granted Brigitte the right to family reunion in Britain – a monumental victory. It could never have happened without a mother who refused to give up, a dedicated team of women campaigners and a legal team all ready to put their expertise and their hearts into the struggle together.  Brigitte says:

I’ve watched other mothers like me live for the moment they’re precious children come back. Words cannot express what we feel, but we know that no mother or child anywhere in the world should have to suffer so much to live together.

To donate, please mark your donation: “Brigitte’s Appeal”

Bank transfer: HSBC Account name: Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Account No: 61635581 Sort Code: 40-04-04

Or via PayPal: Black Women’s Rape Action Project.

More information: Tel 020 7482 2496, email bwrap@rapeaction.net

Open Letter for compensation to Secretary of Justice

Dear friends

Please add your signature to the open letter below, which is pressing for urgent changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme for victims of sexual violence.

We have been campaigning together with a national network of survivors of a wide variety of sexual violence, as children and as adults, and we have put together this open letter on what we have found to be the main obstacles to compensation. In the context of #MeToo and Time’s Up movements we can win. More materials and media coverage at: http://againstrape.net/category/campaigns/compensation

We particularly urge survivors’ organisations, ISVAs, law firms, other professionals and any other groups to sign. Or you can sign as an individual. Please ask groups you know to sign.

If your organization or law firm helps or supports survivors to claim or to appeal, we would really like to be in touch and to work with you. Please let us know, so that we can contact you.

Against rape and for compensation and justice,

Lisa Longstaff

——————————————————–

Rt Hon. David Gauke
Secretary of State for Justice

Dear David Gauke

We collectively represent the experience and demands of thousands of survivors of rape, domestic violence and sex crimes suffered as children or adults.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is discriminating against victims of sexual crimes – even in some cases where our attacker was sent to prison. Winning justice and compensation is official recognition and a crucial step to recovery. It is particularly important for those whose attacker evaded prosecution – the vast majority of rape and domestic violence survivors.

There are several ways in which the Scheme should be updated. We appeal to your government to urgently change the following rules and practices:

1.   The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) denies compensation to victims who delayed reporting to the police – Paragraph 23.
Rape can be so traumatic to the victim that they may be unable to speak about it for some years. Many also experience pressure from others to stay silent.

2.   Victims below 16, the legal age of consent, are denied compensation.
The legal definition of rape is not necessarily applied by the CICA in relation to child victims. Since 2012 over 700 girls were refused compensation because the CICA decided they had ‘consented to sex’ despite being below the age of consent, and even where their attacker had been prosecuted and convicted. How can the CICA be allowed to contradict the criminal law in this way? Embarrassing publicity recently forced the government to think again about definitions of rape of children. But they only told the CICA to take ‘grooming’ into account. Not all girls who were raped by adult men were first groomed and therefore the CICA can still say they consented.

3.   Living under thesame roofwith your attacker before October 1979 disqualifies you from receiving compensation – Paragraph 19.
Before 1979 the rule was that if your attacker lived in the same household as you, you were not entitled to compensation. It denies compensation to victims even those whose rapist was convicted. The excuse was that your attacker might benefit from your award. In 1979 that rule was abolished, but it was not made retrospective. Between 2008-2013, 502 victims of rape were denied an award under this discredited rule. A significant proportion of rapes are committed by family members, and are among the most injurious. Retrospective payments must be awarded to those who have been denied.

4.   Victims of rape who have criminal convictions are denied compensation – Paragraphs 25-27.
Since 2015, at least 385 victims of sexual violence had been refused because of a conviction.[1] Unspent convictions for non-violent and minor offences, including theft, drink-driving or an unpaid TV licence are routinely used to deny victims an award. The CICA claims that the state having once prosecuted us nullifies any claim we have for compensation as it was a drain on public resources. Instead, they should value the public service we performed of bringing a rapist or other violent criminal to justice, protecting everyone’s safety. To punish us twice – first for the crime that we committed, and secondly for the crime committed against us – is discriminatory. This affects some of the most vulnerable victims, penalising those who may have been criminalised as a result of the rape trauma they have endured. Victims often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to soothe their pain, and then get convicted. Sex workers, even those without criminal convictions, face moralistic judgements on their ‘character and conduct’. We don’t want divisive moral judgements by the CICA as either good or bad victims.

5.   Time limit – Paragraphs 87-89.
There is a two year time limit after the crime to make a claim, or if it occurred when the victim was a child, two years from our 18th birthday. This rule disregards the common delays and pressures we face in rape investigations and trials. Also, the police advise victims not to claim until the end of a trial as defence barristers often argue that compensation is a motive for a false allegation. Delays may put a claim out of time through no fault of our own. Secondly, the trauma of rape and the prosecution process prevents many victims from applying within two years. The time limit must be extended to at least five years, longer for those raped as children.

6.   Victims have to co-operate with the prosecution as far as reasonably possible – Paragraph 23.
Many drop out because of trauma, intimidation by their attacker, lack of confidence in the prosecution process, lacklustre investigation or hostility from the police. Yet the CICA rarely accepts victims’ legitimate reasons to withdraw from the prosecution – even, as in one case, the shock and fear of being sexually harassed by the police officer investigating the rape was rejected as a valid reason for the victim to withdraw. When the police are hostile and give evidence against an award, the CICA invariably values their word over the victim’s.

7.   There is no legal aid and unrepresented survivors can face hostile and upsetting questioning by CICA lawyers.
A CICA hearing can be worse than a criminal trial – with questions like, what we wore and why we didn’t scream. CICA appeals which are held in private, evading public scrutiny, have fallen behind updated protection for vulnerable witnesses in criminal courts and other hearings. The CICA internal guidance for questioning vulnerable witnesses is neither public nor transparent and thus evades legal challenge.

Compensation is often the only official acknowledgement of rape we get, given the low conviction rate of 6%. An award can speed recovery, as many women suffer catastrophic mental and physical injuries. Patients struggle to get treatment from the depleted NHS and dwindling therapeutic services – many face years on a waiting list and rationed appointments. In addition, we suffer life changing impacts such as losing a job, eviction, marital breakdown, being unable to cope with children, fear of public transport . . .

The basic award for rape is a mere £11,000, and this does not stretch far. Amounts should be increased, and decisions speeded up. There is a minefield of rules which put people off, as described above. Most don’t even know the Scheme exists or applies to them.

Yours sincerely,

signed so far by the following organisations:
Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre
CARA (Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse), Colchester
Cohen Cramer Solicitors, Mike Massen, Partner
Colchester & Tendring Women’s Aid
Coventry Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC)
Davenport & Cale Green Branch Labour Party
Disabled People Against the Cuts
Dundee Women’s Aid
English Collective of Prostitutes
Legal Action for Women
National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)
Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsiblity
Psychologists for Social Change
Psychologists and Counsellors Union
Rape Crisis England and Wales
Rape Crisis Scotland
Solace Women’s Aid
Somerset & Avon Rape & Sexual Abuse Support
Taxpayers Against Poverty
WinVisible – Women With Visible and Invisible Disabilities

 

Add your Organisation or law firm by emailing us –
please specify if you are signing on behalf of this organisation

Please return signed to Women Against Rape via email war@womenagainstrape.net
Or post to WAR, Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX

 www.againstrape.net  Twitter: #AgainstRape             Phone: 020 7482 2496

[1] ‘Hundreds of sexual assault victims refused compensation for minor convictionsIndependent; ‘Rape victims denied compensation for petty convictions’ – Guardian and ‘Hundreds of rape victims denied compensation’ Scottish Herald

 

Statement against the Family Returns Process . . . END DETENTION, END DEPORTATION, WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HERE

We are the All African Women’s Group. Many of us have been in detention. We know the terrible impact it has. Women are on hunger strike right now against the torture of detention. We want an end to detention,but we do
not want a worse alternative. We object particularly to the Family Returns Process

Women for Refugee Women (WfRW) are saying that the Family Returns Process (FRP) should be extended to all asylum seekers. Their report The Way Ahead (2017) describes FRP as an “Area of Success to Build on in the UK”. Interviewed on Woman’s Hour last week their spokeswoman said: “We now have this process called the Family Return Process which supports families with children under 18 to stay in the community up to the point they actually leave the UK, so yes there needs to be a system but that system doesn’t need to include detention.”

WfRW are having a lobby of parliament on 8 March and we are worried that the Family Returns Process will be put forward to members of parliament as what women asylum seekers want.

We are against the Family Returns Process because its main focus is to deport us. It coins the words “support” and “engagement” as a cover for enforced removals. We do not accept that people should have to go back.

A report of the FRP says: “While some organisations believe families who want to stay here should never be returned home, they are few in number.” We are not few in number and our voices should be heard because we know best what horrors we face on return. We all have the right to be here in the UK. African and other Third World people have contributed over centuries to the wealth in the UK. We have suffered enough through imperial conquest, slave trades, proxy wars, Western backed dictatorships, rape and other torture…and through long treacherous journeys getting to the UK.

What we need are committed reliable lawyers to help us with our cases to overcome the terrible injustice we face. Most of the time when we make an application to the Home Office we are disbelieved, no matter what we say and what evidence we have. We want help enforcing our rights to be treated fairly as victims of rape and other torture and as vulnerable people. The Home Office has absolutely no interest in justice.

The FRP has four stages:

  1. ‘Family return conference’ to discuss any barriers to return.
  2. ‘Family departure meeting’ to discuss the family’s views about their options.
  3. ‘Required return’ where the family make their own way to the airport.
  4. ‘Ensured return’ reviewed by an “Independent Family Returns Panel”.

THIS PANEL IS NOT INDEPENDENT – it is funded by the Home Office. As a last resort detention for up to a week and enforced return is used.

The FRP says children can be forcibly returned with “the use of physical intervention”. Guidelines for restraining children are based on those used in secure units which include “the deliberate infliction of pain”.

The FRP report slanders mothers and accuses them of child abuse for not agreeing to enforced return: “Children have been subjected to unacceptable pressure from parents not to co-operate with Home Office officials and where such cases occur it is a form of child abuse.” How many children have been and will be taken from their parents with this excuse?

The FRP also slanders lawyers saying that “legal representatives lodge legal objections to removal at the last minute in order, it seems, to frustrate the process.” How dare they say that. We are women who have suffered rape and other torture and the Home Office makes it as difficult as possible for our case to be heard. Legal aid cuts have made it almost impossible to find reliable lawyers to help us. When we have the good fortune to find a lawyer to intervene they accuse us of abusing the system – not that the system abuses us.

WE DEMAND:

  • An end to detention and the immediate release of mothers and children, pregnant women, survivors of rape and other torture, people who are mentally or physically sick and other vulnerable people. Meet the hunger strikers demands.
  • Reinstate legal aid for all asylum and immigration cases to ensure people get a chance of a fair hearing against the Home Office racism, sexism and determination to deport no matter how unjustly.
  • No NGO collaboration with, and promotion of, so-called “voluntary” and “family returns”, and any other government processes that depend on injustice, destitution, detention and forced deportations to drive asylum seekers out.

Signed: All African Women’s Group (80 members)

Supported by: Black Women’s Rape Action Project; Brighton Anti-Raids Network; Brighton Migrant Solidarity; Brighton Plan C; Demilitarise King’s, Detained Voices; End Deportations; Jollof Café (Brighton); KCL Action Palestine, Legal Action for Women; Lesbian & Gays Support the Migrants; RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research); SOAS Detainee Support Group;Sussex Refugee and Migrant Self Support Group; Women Against Rape;Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike;  North East London Migrant Action (NELMA); Gazelle Maria, Oxford; Zeenat Suleman, London

Family Courts on Trial – 8 March event

Image

Please join us on 8 March, International Women’s Day. We will taking part in the speak out called by the Global Women’s Strike to put the Family Court on Trial (details below).

We have seen a massive rise in calls for help from mothers whose children are being taken into care or even adoption, when they report rape or domestic violence. They are routinely disbelieved or blamed for causing their children “emotional harm” while the perpetrators get away with it. The drive to prioritise fathers’ ‘rights’ overrides all other considerations, with violent fathers being given contact and residence. Children and mothers are being abused and even killed as a result.

Poverty imposed by austerity cuts – 86% of which have targeted women, depriving us of escape routes – is also used to accuse mothers, especially single mothers, of ‘neglect’ and take our children.

Mothers all over the UK are fighting for our rights to care for and protect our children from this child abuse by the state. Please bring your evidence.

Women Against Rape

Facebook event here. Follow us on Twitter @WomenStrike.

 

 

UPDATE: Yarl’s Wood Hunger Strike: “They’re trying to break us down”

STOP PRESS:  Emergency Demo Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers
4-5pm, Wed 28 Feb, outside the Home Office, Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF.
Called by Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants: co-hosted with All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Docs Not Cops, End Deportations, Right to Remain, SOAS Detainee Support, The London Latinxs, and others

Update:  Yarl’s Wood Hunger Strike . . .  for immediate release

They’re trying to break us down but we’re not about to give in to them or their threats

“Theresa” currently on hunger strike told us that they are being denied the right to fax statements about their conditions and demands.  She said “we are about 20 women and 14 men taking complete hunger strike . . .  yesterday our statement was confiscated by an officer called Claire. Today we tried to send faxes of our demands from [the] health care [area] where we are holding a silent protest.  After we faxed, 2 officers came following us and tried to take our papers away . . . I refused to give them – tell the director to come pick them from me himself.”

Theresa says that threats have been made by the director Steven Hewer to take “trouble –makers” to prison – “protesters are being called to the Home Office one by one, supposedly to address our demands but instead they are updating people on their individual cases. . . our protest is a peaceful quiet one and we don’t appreciate having the threat of HMP prisons directed at us”.

Over and over again women protesting in Yarl’s Wood have been targeted for punishment– and the same goes for protesters against detention around the world.  See our sister Maru who has been targeted for deportation in the US.

From mothers threatened with being deported without their children to rape survivors who haven’t been able to speak about what they suffered in the “hostile environment” in which asylum claims are considered, women in Yarl’s Wood face removal without having had a fair hearing.  Sexism, racism and other discrimination result in the Home Office routinely refusing to believe women, flouting its own instructions about how it should treat “Gender Issues in the Asylum Claim”.  Legal aid cuts deprive women of legal representation and advice, and vital evidence to pursue appeals, instead judges “rubber stamp” Home Office refusals flouting their own guidance on how they should treat “vulnerable witnesses”.  Their cases having been unjustly closed, women face destitution, detention and deportation.

All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape support the hunger strikers who are demanding:

  1. Shorter bail request periods [quicker bail hearings]
    2. Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and above
  2. End indefinite detention
  3. End Charter flights
    5. No more re-detention
    6. End systematic torture in Yarl’s Wood
    7. Stop separating families
    8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children
    9. The beds need to be changed
    10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed
    11. Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre
    12. Give us access to proper healthcare
  4. Give us proper food to look after our diets
  5. Release people with outstanding applications
  6. We want to speak to Alistair Burt MP for the constituency

We also call for:

  • An end to detention; immediately release mothers and children, pregnant women, survivors of rape and other torture, people who are mentally or physically sick and other vulnerable people.
  • An independent investigation into claims of rape and other sexual abuse against women held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre
  • Reinstate legal aid for all asylum and immigration cases to ensure women and men get a chance of a fair hearing against the Home Office’s racism, sexism and determination to deport no matter how unjustly.
  • An official investigation into what happens to people who are deported, including those deported from the unlawful Detained Fast Track, so that they can get the help they need.
  • No NGO collaboration with, and promotion of, so-called “voluntary” and “family returns”, and any other government processes that depend on injustice, destitution, detention and forced deportations to drive asylum seekers out.
  • Close down Yarl’s Wood and detention centres everywhere!

Those in detention have the right to be here. Those of us on hunger strike have the right to be here: count the contribution that African and other third world people have made over hundreds of years to the wealth in the UK.

Some recent press coverage:

100 Immigrant Women Are on Hunger Strike at a Notorious UK Detention Center
https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/8xdkyz/yarls-wood-detention-centre-hunger-strike-sit-in

Yarl’s Wood female hunger striker facing deportation tomorrow
https://freedomnews.org.uk/yarls-wood-female-hunger-striker-facing-deportation-tomorrow/

Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project on Yarl’s Wood hunger strike
https://youtu.be/tmfxL8iIoqo

Yarl’s Wood: Women on Hunger Strike “Our rights in here are being violated every day – we’ve had enough”

Over 100 women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre began a hunger strike on Wednesday 21 February.  The women from Avocet and Dove units along with a few men on the family wing are refusing food and are planning further protests. They have issued a statement with demands which include:

1. Shorter bail request period. Legally bail applications should only take 3-5 days to come to court. Delays of up to a month are common.

2. Amnesty to give legal status to those who have lived in the UK 10 years and more.

3. End indefinite detention so that no-one stays inside for longer than 28 days.
4. End Charter flights. These are inhumane because women get no prior notifications, which leaves no time to make arrangements with family members.

5. No more re-detention. No-one should be re-detained if you are complying with the law.

7. Stop separating families. Some women inside are married or have British partners and children outside.

8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children. They should not be punished for their parents’ immigration histories.

9. The beds need to be changed. Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed and they are the most uncomfortable beds.

10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed. It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult.

11. Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre. Only some rooms have them, and people have got very ill in places where they can’t call for help.

12. Access to proper healthcare. Women with serious conditions have been left for days without treatment.

13. Give us proper, nutritious food.

14. Release people with outstanding applications.

15. We want to speak to Alistair Burt, MP for the constituency.

The statement describes conditions inside as “torture”:

“At any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal have their privacy taken away because officers come in without warning. You don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later.”

Ms L who spoke from Yarl’s Wood to Ms Titah from the All African Women’s Group[i] commented:

“Some of us are victims of rape and other torture including human trafficking.  Even when we have scars and other physical injuries and suffer trauma we’re told by staff who have no qualifications that there is nothing wrong – all to justify keeping us locked up. 

Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape reported that over 70% of women in Yarl’s Wood are rape survivors and documented that women have endured “a regime of predatory sexual abuse” from guards over years. The government’s refusal to investigate and hold those to account has led MPs to describe it as “state sanctioned abuse.”

Ms L continues:

“A lot of medical conditions are going untreated here.  We can’t get appointments to see doctors . . . women fall ill with low or high blood pressure but all we’re given is paracetomal – it is very dangerous.  Last month one woman was ill for days and ignored until she collapsed.  They rushed her to Bedford hospital at 3am and she needed a blood transfusion. 

“Detention is mental torture. . . .  Some have been there a year. . . .  We try for bail but even when we have all the documentation we are turned down and left in limbo.  One judge routinely refuses everyone’s applications no matter what.  Some of us have paid thousands of pounds to private lawyers – it’s a money making racket”.

Women say they are not going to give up and are planning further action on Monday.

For interviews with women please call: 07456525227

 

[i] A group of women asylum seekers based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.

Supreme Court today: rape victims vs Theresa May and police

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UPDATE: The Supreme Court upheld the women’s claim – a significant victory for all rape survivors!

Today 21 February, the Supreme Court will give the verdict on a police appeal to overturn a high court decision which protects rape victims.  This shameful appeal was backed by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Biased and negligent police investigations are a major reason the conviction rate for reported rape remains a disgraceful 6%.  For decades victims of rape have fought for their right to thorough investigations and for the gathering of evidence that could result in the prosecution of their attackers.  In the John Warboys case (prosecuted in 2009), police hostility to his victims enabled him to sexually assault over 100 women with impunity.  One victim spoke publicly about how the police laughed in her face at her reporting a taxi driver.

In a pathbreaking case in 2014, two of Warboys’ victims used Article 3 of the Human Rights Act to uphold their right to state protection from serious violence (police investigation of crime), and won damages for inhuman and degrading treatment.

Other victims had previously taken similar legal actions. In 2012 Ms X won compensation from the Met after suing the police for breach of policy on the investigation of rape.  Ms X worked with WAR for seven years to uncover what went wrong.  After an in-depth IPCC investigation which spelled out the most horrendous police incompetence and negligence, she took the case through the civil court using this same Article 3 (and Article 8) and was awarded £15,000. The victim’s mother, who worked tirelessly for justice against the systemic police problems on child rape exposed by her daughter’s case said, “When you walk into a police station to report rape you expect the police to investigate thoroughly. I was devastated when they didn’t, because I’d encouraged my daughter to report against her wishes and felt I had let her down.”

May’s support for this legal appeal gives the lie to her pledges to improve laws protecting women from violence.  She also wants to repeal the Human Rights Act, one of the only routes rape survivors have been able to use to hold the police to account, breaking with years of impunity.

May’s blatant hypocrisy is also exposed by her economic policy, slashing women’s escape routes from violence.

Philip Hammond’s budget announcement last year of £30m support for women hides the outrageous financial attacks on women by successive governments, which have increased women and children’s vulnerability to rape and domestic violence, and cut our protection and escape routes:

·       86% of austerity cuts have fallen on women, cutting helplines, refuges, legal aid and criminal injuries compensation;

·       17% of refuges have closed since 2010; 2 in 3 women, and 4 in 5 BME women are turned away from a refuge every day; refuges must compete for dwindling council funds against housing, roads, libraries, etc.; many will close under new proposals to cut housing benefit on which 50 % of refuges depend;

·       the children of mothers who report domestic violence and/or have been impoverished are taken from their mothers who are denied the support and protection they are entitled to; the number of children in care is the highest it’s been for 35 years; the UK has the highest adoption rate in Europe, 90% of it without the family’s consent; this amounts to punishment for mothers reporting rape;

·       victims of domestic violence are denied legal aid and forced to defend themselves against violent ex-partners in the family court; evidence of violence is dismissed and children are forced into contact or even to live with violent fathers, endangering and in some cases ending their lives;

·       women and children seeking asylum from rape and other torture have been refused entry, detained, made destitute and deported;

·       slashed benefits and punitive sanctions have forced mothers into low-waged zero hours jobs or prostitution to feed their kids;

·       sold off public housing has given free reign to profiteering landlords, forcing poor families away from their support networks.

We hope the Supreme Court, now headed by a distinguished woman, will support the rights of rape victims.

 

 

Number of complaints over police handling of sex attacks and domestic violence soars

See quote from WAR below.

Revelations prompt warnings that forces are failing the most vulnerable victims, with campaigners saying police response is ‘matter of life and death’

• Harriet Agerholm The Independent
• @HarrietAgerholm
• 17 February 2018

Domestic abuse accounts for eight per cent of all recorded crime

The number of complaints received by the police watchdog over officers’ handling of sexual assault and domestic violence cases has soared in the past five years, new figures reveal.

Officers have been accused of abusing their powers for sexual gain, falsifying evidence and committing perjury in cases that campaigners say show forces are failing the most vulnerable victims in society.

Complaints to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for officers working on domestic abuse cases rose four-fold between 2011-12 and 2016-17, according to data released to The Independent under freedom of information laws. The spike far exceeds an increase in reported crimes during the same period, with figures indicating a rise of 42 per cent.

The number of referrals also rose against officers dealing with rape, stalking and child sex abuse cases.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, which supports victims of domestic abuse, said alleged mistakes by the police could be a “matter of life and death”. According to the charity’s research 78 people were killed by a current or former partner in 2016.

Complaints to the IOPC – formerly the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) – are made by a force when it believes officers have failed to follow correct protocols.

In 2016-17 there were 342 referrals of officers dealing with domestic abuse cases, up from 83 in 2011-12.

The number of allegations against officers handling sexual assault and rape cases increased by 148 per cent to 206 referrals in 2016-17 – higher than the 130 per cent increase in reported crimes to the police.

Police chiefs last year asked the IOPC to look into 166 complaints about officer conduct in child sex abuse cases, including allegations that some were not investigated. There were 39 referrals in stalking cases in the same period. There were no complaints made to the body about the management of either of these types of crime in 2011-12.

The police handling of sexual assault cases has come under renewed attention after the Parole Board cleared serial sex attacker John Worboys’s for release from prison after he served nine years of an indefinite sentence.

The Metropolitan police has faced accusations of repeatedly failing Worboys’ victims. In 2010 the IPCC ruled that Worboys remain free because police officers made serious mistakes and failed to take victims seriously.

The overall number of referrals to the IOPC covering all types of crimes rose by 79 per cent over the same five-year period, after the watchdog criticised forces for attempting to deal with complaints internally.

Campaigners have warned that cases relating to domestic violence and sexual assault are particularly worrying because of the vulnerable nature of the victims.

They also said perpetrators of sexual attacks are likely to be repeat offenders, meaning failures in police investigations can lead to further attacks.

Concerns have also been raised about the lack of action taken against officers referred to the IOPC.

Of the hundreds of cases of alleged police misconduct in sex assault cases between 2011-12 and 2016-17, only 17 ended in sanctions for the individuals involved, freedom of information data reveals. Two of these officers were dismissed without notice, while three were given final written warnings.

In domestic abuse cases, 25 people faced sanctions over the same period, including 10 who were given written warnings. None of the officers accused of misconduct in domestic abuse cases were fired, the figures provided by the IOPC showed.

Lisa Longstaff, from Women Against Rape, said in her 30 years working with sexual assault victims, she had been “disgusted” by the low numbers of misconduct complaints that were upheld.

In cases where police officers abused their positions for sexual gain, this was particularly problematic, she said. “They don’t end up with a criminal record, they’re not convicted of rape, they don’t go on the sex offender’s register. And that has implications for future possibilities of abuse – getting jobs easily, working with other vulnerable people and possibly doing it again.

“Very occasionally they end up in court and get convicted, but mostly they get dealt with as a disciplinary matter. And that’s not acceptable. It effectively means they are above the law and that’s a very dangerous situation.”

Chief Constable Craig Guildford, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for complaints and misconduct, said the police were dealing with an increasing number of complex sexual offence cases.

“It is vital that we get our response to these right. We positively encourage people to report such offences and welcome the increased level of reporting which we recognise some people find incredibly difficult,” he said.

“We do everything possible to ensure that cases are investigated thoroughly, however, if somebody feels that this has not been the case, regardless of when it happened, it is absolutely right they seek an explanation and redress.

“Where a complaint is upheld we ensure that appropriate action is taken to address and learn from these failures.”

An IOPC spokesperson said: “Our independent investigations are both robust and thorough and where we find evidence of misconduct by officers we will refer our findings to the appropriate authority, or in the most serious cases the CPS.

“In just the last few weeks we have seen two officers charged by the CPS following an investigation in Essex and in Lancashire, a police officer was jailed for targeting vulnerable women. There are also many examples where we have directed forces to hold misconduct proceedings.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/police-officer-complaints-domestic-abuse-sexual-assault-cases-rise-watchdog-figures-a8214201.html

All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, & Women Against Rape 14/15 Feb @ LUSH Human Rights Summit

Performance: We are Here – because You are There
Our interactive play has been on tour to Coventry, Sheffield & the DSEI Stop to Arms Fair. Performed by asylum seekers from the All African Women’s Group, it depicts the real life injustices faced by rape survivors and others throughout the asylum process. Wed 14 Feb 1-2pm
Human Rights Room

Exhibition: For Those Who Died Trying
The dangers and issues faced by environmental rights
defenders in Thailand told through those who survived assassination attempts.
Filmed, photographed & edited by Luke Duggleby

Workshop/exhibition/films:
Support not Separation
Mothers speak of their struggle to keep and protect their children against unwarranted removal by social services and forced adoption. Plus art exhibition and protest films by Women Against Rape.
Wed 14 Feb 3-4pm